More than two million Americans are considered legally blind. About 25 percent of that number, or 50 million, are totally blind (i.e., have only light perception, or no vision at all). The remaining 75 percent have either visual acuity equal to 20/200 or less, or a visual field limited to 20 degrees or less.
In practical terms, a student who is legally blind may require the use of a cane to or guide dog to walk safely around the campus, and yet be able to use his/her central vision to read normal size print. Many diseases and disabilities can significantly diminish the visual processing necessary to function in an academic setting.
Some students who are not legally blind may also qualify for accommodations. Such conditions as documented eyestrain, pain, severely fluctuating vision, or an inability to track print for a substantial length of time may require accommodation.
- Most students with very low vision or who are totally blind use a cane or a dog guide. These travel aids also serve to indicate that the person has a severe vision impairment. The use of such mobility aids may vary in accordance with individual preference and circumstance. For example, a student may have good "day vision" and only require the use of such travel aids when it is growing dark.
- Before assisting any student who is visually impaired ask them if they would like some help and then wait for a response before acting.
- Words and phrases that refer to sight, such as "I'll see you later" are commonly used expressions and usually go unnoticed unless a speaker is particularly self conscious. Students with vision loss can still "see" what is meant by such expressions.
- When talking with or greeting a student with vision impairment, speak in a normal voice. Most people with vision impairments do not also have hearing impairments; if they do they will let you know. Do not speak to the student through a third party or companion, and use the student's name when directing the conversation to him or her.
- When joining a group or conversation identify yourself to the student.
- When giving directions, say "left" or "right", "step up" or "step down." Convert directions to the vision-impaired student's perspective. When guiding a student (into a room, for example) offer your arm and let him or her take it rather than pulling the person's sleeve.
- If a student uses a dog guide, it should never be petted or distracted while in harness. To distract a working dog guide undermines the training and/or the performance of the animal, thereby placing the student in danger.
- Common accommodations for students with vision impairments include alternative print formats, magnification devices, raised lettering, tactile cues, adaptive computer equipment, the use of scribes and readers for exams, print scanners, taped lectures, lab or library assistants and time extensions for exams.
- Include a disability access statement in the course syllabus such as: "To obtain disability related accommodations and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact Access Services as soon as possible by calling 507.457.5878 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org."
- It would be helpful to have copies of the syllabus and reading assignments ready no less than six weeks prior to the beginning of classes so documents are available for timely translation into alternative formats.
- Provide vision-impaired students with materials in alternative formats at the same time the materials are given to the rest of the class. The accommodation letter will specify what format is appropriate.
- Make sure D2L course materials are accessible to the student.
- Repeat aloud what is written on the board or presented on overheads and in handouts. Pace the presentation of material. If referring to a textbook or handout, allow time for students to find the information.
- Allow students to tape lectures.
- When appropriate, ask for a sighted volunteer to team up with a vision-impaired student for in-class assignments.
- Keep a front row seat open for a student with low vision. A comer seat would be especially convenient for a student with a guide dog.
- Assist the student with finding an effective peer note taker from the class.
- Make field trip arrangements early and ensure that accommodations will be in place on the given day (e.g., transportation, site accessibility).
- Be flexible with deadlines if assignments are held up by the document conversion process.
- Students who are blind may have difficulty moving about campus and are often dependent upon others for transportation. Be flexible in applying promptness rules to students who are blind.
- When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability.
- Allow the student the anonymity afforded other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).
These guidelines were adapted from guidelines used by the Division of Disability Resources & Educational Services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.